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Ex-US ambassador to Ukraine feared Trump allies were 'looking to hurt' her

Yesterday a 317-page transcript of Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony was released.

Former American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, testified to the House.
Former American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, testified to the House.
Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Press Association Images

A FORMER US ambassador to Ukraine has told congressional investigators that Ukrainian officials had warned her in advance that Rudy Giuliani and other allies of Donald Trump were planning to “do things, including to me” and were “looking to hurt” her.

Marie Yovanovitch, who was pushed out of her job in May on Trump’s orders, said a senior Ukrainian official told her that “I really needed to watch my back”.

While the major thrust of her evidence had come out on the day she testified behind closed doors last month in the impeachment inquiry, yesterday’s 317-page transcript provided new details about the bewildering sequence of events that led to the career diplomat’s removal.

Her account started with the warnings from Ukrainian officials and then led legislators through various attempts to bad mouth her in Ukraine and the US.

The emotion behind her nine hours of evidence was evident. At one point, when she returned from a short break, one of her questioners told her: “We understand this is a difficult and emotional topic.”

She also offered significant new threads of information — including the potential that the president was directly involved in a phone call with Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and the Ukrainians dating back to January 2018 — while pushing back on Republican questions suggesting she harboured opposition to Trump.

She had been recalled from Kiev before the 25 July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is at the centre of the impeachment inquiry, but was “surprised and dismayed” by what she understood from the transcript of the call.

She told investigators she was shocked to learn Trump had called her “bad news” in the phone call, adding that she felt threatened and perplexed by his remark that she was “going to go through some things”.

The diplomat added that she worried that her job and pension could be at risk but that “so far” she was not concerned about her personal safety although “a number of my friends are very concerned”.

Yovanovitch was recalled from Kiev as Giuliani pressed Ukrainian officials to investigate baseless corruption allegations against Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was involved with Burisma, a gas company there.

Giuliani’s role in Ukraine was central to Yovanovitch’s evidence. She said she was aware of an interest by him and his associates in investigating Mr Biden and Burisma “with a view to finding things that could be possibly damaging to a presidential run”, as well as investigating the 2016 election and theories of Ukrainian interference instead of Russian interference.

Asked directly if Giuliani was promoting investigations on Burisma and Mr Biden, she said: “It wasn’t entirely clear to me what was going on.”

More directly, she drew a link between Giuliani and two businessmen – Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have been indicted in the US on charges stemming from campaign donations they made to US politicians with foreign money – as part of the campaign to oust her.

She understood they were looking to expand their business interests in Ukraine “and that they needed a better ambassador to sort of facilitate their business efforts here”.

She said was told by Ukrainian officials last November or December that Giuliani was in touch with Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, “and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me”.

She said she was told Lutsenko “was looking to hurt me in the US”.

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